Martin Klizan was a surprise winner at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam last year – can he keep his title defense alive as he faces Tomas Berdych in Friday’s quarterfinals?
Former ATP Rotterdam champion Tomas Berdych takes on last year’s winner Martin Klizan in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Berdych, a champion at the ABN AMRO WTT in 2014 and runner-up in 2015 to Stan Wawrinka, improved to 18-7 at the 500-level indoors event with his victory over fellow former top-10 player Richard Gasquet on Thursday. It hadn’t been a brilliant start to the season for Berdych – a semifinalist at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, he lost in easy straight sets to Andy Murray and was ousted by Roger Federer in, again, easy straight sets in the third round of the Australian Open, a pair of results which underline the general tenor of Berdych’s career: He is, of course, an elite player but not a man to significantly or consistently trouble those clustered at the top. It feels as if that has become more pronounced in recent years as Berdych’s lone Grand Slam final appearance, at Wimbledon in 2012, fades into the distance and he has taken a slide out of the top 10 due to his failure to defend his Australian Open semifinal points from 2016.
But Berdych insisted in pre-match press that he still hoped for more from himself and his career. Indoor conditions in Rotterdam suit him very well, although he did not overly shine in his opener against Marius Copil, beating the qualifier 7-6(3), 6-4. Against Gasquet, he came into the match with a narrow 8-7 lead in the head-to-head but having won five of the last six, and the fourth seed recovered quickly from a slow start which saw him fall 0-2 behind: Steadying himself, he broke back in the midst of the first set, saved a set point in the latter stages and edged the tie break, helped by some fantastic defense (not a quality one usually associates with the Czech). Breaking immediately in the second set as Gasquet’s resistance crumbled, Berdych ran through it smoothly as the French player increasingly capitulated, eventually ending the match on a double fault for a 7-6(4), 6-1 victory.
‘They were two very different sets,’ Berdych said afterwards. ‘The beginning wasn't ideal, as Goran [Ivanisevic] said. I didn't show up for the beginning. Luckily I picked up very quickly, found my rhythm, then played a very good and tough first set. It was a solid tie break for me.
‘From the beginning of the second set I started applying more and more pressure, coming to the net more and he felt that pressure and gave me a couple of chances. An early break helps a lot and it snowballed from there. It was a good performance today.’
Next up for Berdych, as he hunts for his first title since last year’s Shenzhen Open, is the defending Rotterdam champion Martin Klizan.
Klizan is something of an enigma to many. An absolutely lethal left-handed powerhouse when he is on his game, the Slovakian nevertheless goes through long stretches when he is barely a factor on the ATP World Tour. Injury-prone, which is part of the story, and inconsistent, Klizan is capable of dazzling runs of form, one of which saw him capture the 250 BMW Munich Open title in 2014 as a qualifier, stunning Fabio Fognini in the final (which contributed to a career-high ranking of world no. 24 in April 2015, after winning a third title in Casablanca and making the semifinals of the 500-level Barcelona Open).
That Munich run really pales in comparison to the one Klizan put together to win Rotterdam in 2016, however. Unseeded and ranked world no. 43, Klizan defeated Tommy Robredo and Marcos Baghdatis before saving eight match points in total against Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarterfinals and Nicolas Mahut in the semifinals, coming back from a set down once again to stun Gael Monfils in the final. It was the most match points saved en route to a title since Felix Mantilla saved nine in Palermo in 2001.
Klizan lost his next two matches and was then absent from competition until May, when he retired in the fifth set of a first-round match against Taro Daniel at Roland Garros. Losing in the first round of Wimbledon, Klizan returned to his preferred clay to unexpectedly capture his second 500 title of the season in Hamburg, beating Pablo Cuevas in the final. After losing in the first round of the US Open, he ended his season on a six-match losing streak stretching from New York to Paris.
Klizan went 0-3 in January 2017 with first-round defeats in Chennai, Sydney and Melbourne, got his first win of the year against world no. 248 Attila Balazs in Davis Cup but lost to world no. 159 Marton Fucsovics. Last week in Sofia the Slovak got his first back-to-back wins of the season as he defeated Andrey Kuznetsov and Daniel Brands to make the quarterfinals before losing to Nikoloz Basilashvili, but he has battled through two tough three-setters so far in Rotterdam to make the quarters, beating Fernando Verdasco despite receiving a second-set bagel and coming back from a set down to defeat Philipp Kohlschreiber.
It's been, in other words, a gallant attempt to defend his title from Klizan – but it doesn’t look too good for him against Berdych. The Czech owns a 4-0 record vs Klizan, who has dropped to world no. 73 with the loss of his Rotterdam points, with three of those four wins coming in straight sets. At the US Open in 2014, Klizan did push Berdych to five sets, but one feels that the conditions in Rotterdam should suit the big Czech just a little more than they do the Slovakian – not to mention that Berdych, despite his recent slide out of the top 10 and various suggestions of a career on the downslope, is a far more experienced and accomplished player and a much more consistent performer. Expect the fourth seed to make the second semifinal of his ATP World Tour season in Rotterdam on Friday.
Berdych vs Klizan is scheduled on Centre Court in Rotterdam on Friday at 12.30pm local/11.30am GMT